NOEL, Mo. — Investigators have reason to believe a body discovered July 29 on a hillside in McDonald County is that of a young mother from Noel. 

Sheriff Michael Hall said a positive identification of the woman whose body was discovered near a suitcase on a steep hillside between Noel and Ginger Blue as 25-year-old Jessica McCormack has yet to be made either by dental records or DNA.

"But we do have other things that do match, and her family has been notified of the possibility," Hall said.

He said McCormack is being tentatively identified at this time as the subject of the death investigation out of concern for the safety and whereabouts of the three children: 4-year-old Siah Casillas, 20-month-old Saidah Noor and 7-month-old Intisar Mahamed.

At the time of the announcement, those three children were considered missing, and had been entered into a national database as missing and endangered. Late Thursday night, the three children were located, according to a statement on the sheriff's department's Facebook page. 

McCormack was last seen in the Noel area about the middle of July, the sheriff said.

Investigators believe the body found on the hillside had been in a suitcase found near the body. Hall said they expect physical evidence sent off for analysis at a crime lab to confirm that suspicion.

An autopsy was unable to determine the cause or manner of the woman's death because of the extent of decomposition that had taken place. The medical examiner is awaiting toxicology test results before ruling on either the cause or manner of death.

But the circumstances of the case strongly suggest homicide, according to the sheriff.

"She wasn't put in the suitcase on her own," Hall said.

Investigators began following leads last week when the body was found along Highway 59 by a passing bicyclist. They learned last week that McCormack had not been seen or heard from in about a month, although no one had reported her missing. Not wishing to misidentify the body, investigators approached the possibility that the body could be McCormack's with caution, the sheriff said.

Hall said that after further investigation and a reexamination of the body, they now have "strong evidence" to believe the deceased woman is McCormack. The sheriff said a family member has provided a sample of DNA for comparison and investigators are trying to obtain McCormack's dental records for comparison. 

Jeff Lehr is a reporter for The Joplin Globe. 

Jeff Lehr is a reporter for The Joplin Globe.